Energy

Oil drops 2.8% on coronavirus fears, dips below $50 per barrel

Key Points
  • Oil fell to its lowest level in more than a year as the coronavirus outbreak and its potential impact on demand hammered crude prices.
  • At the session low, West Texas Intermediate dropped to $49.92 a barrel.
  • "Crude will remain very reactionary to any headlines that indicate the virus will have a sustained impact on global demand," said Rebecca Babin, senior energy trader at CIBC Private Wealth Management.
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Crude sinks for fourth-straight session amid growing coronavirus fears

Oil fell to its lowest level in more than a year on Monday as the coronavirus outbreak and its potential impact on demand further hammered crude prices.

"The oil market has been subject to many supply shocks over recent years, but an acute demand shock has not been felt since the 2008 financial crisis," RBC's Michael Tran said in a note to clients Monday, adding that the coronavirus has "roiled the oil market."

U.S. West Texas Intermediate fell 2.8%, or $1.45 per barrel, to settle at $50.11 per barrel. Earlier in the session, WTI fell more than 3% to $49.92, its lowest level since Jan. 2019. International benchmark Brent crude dropped 3.9%, or $2.21, to $54.41 and hit its lowest level since Jan. 3, 2019.

"The supply / demand profile in crude oil was already looking extremely fragile for the first half of 2020 before the virus hit," said Rebecca Babin, senior energy trader at CIBC Private Wealth Management. "Crude will remain very reactionary to any headlines that indicate the virus will have a sustained impact on global demand."

China is the world's largest oil importer and the second-largest oil consumer, so a demand slowdown could have a big impact on prices.

WTI and Brent are trading in bear-market territory of at least 20% price declines from recent highs and are coming off four straight weeks of losses.

RBC's Helima Croft said the market is focusing "on a sum-of-all-fears scenario for demand," and said that "all eyes are now on whether OPEC can alter the sentiment through collective action."

The energy alliance's Joint Technical Committee, a nonministerial sub group that reviews the oil market, will reportedly hold meetings Tuesday and Wednesday in Vienna to discuss options to mitigate the impact from the coronavirus outbreak. The action could include additional production cuts. A full OPEC meeting could take place next week.

"We're expecting production cuts to the tune of about 500,000 barrels per day," Yogi Dewan, CEO of Hassium Asset Management, told CNBC's "Capital Connection." "OPEC is looking at this very, very carefully, just thinking to themselves, we need to do something here just to help support oil prices."

Earlier in the session, WTI briefly turned positive after The Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia was considering a 1 million barrels per day cut in order to stimulate prices. The newspaper cited OPEC officials.

"Willingness to increase production cuts from OPEC+ is expected by the market," Babin said.

- CNBC's Michael Bloom, Dan Murphy and Abigail Ng contributed reporting.